Ann Napolitano’s new novel opens with a transcontinental flight from New York to Los Angeles. Among the passengers boarding the plane are 12-year-old Edward Adler, his parents and older brother. We learn quickly that this particular flight doesn’t have a happy ending — the plane crashes near Denver, killing almost everyone aboard. Only Eddie survives.
“Dear Edward” is inspired by a true story, in which a 9-year-old boy was the sole survivor of a flight to London from South Africa in 2010. Napolitano has said in interviews that she became almost obsessed with that tragedy, using it as the premise of this novel, which explores some of life’s most profound questions: When you’ve lost everything, how do you go on? How do you find meaning, inspiration and hope? How do you feel safe? How do you learn to love again?
The novel alternates between scenes of the flight and Edward’s journey in its aftermath. Onboard the plane, we meet an intriguing cast of characters, including an injured veteran, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, a sexy flight attendant, a wealthy older man battling cancer, and a woman who’s convinced she’s been reincarnated and will be again. Edward’s family is front and center — although his mother sits alone in first class — and we get a sense for the subtle challenges that pepper their daily lives.
“Dear Edward” also speaks to the bizarre, sudden fame that comes with being a newsmaker — a Miracle Boy, a Sole Survivor — in the age of social media. Edward and his friend discover sacks full of letters addressed to him from relatives of victims who crave some connection or closure. They want him to become a violinist, to go whale watching, to walk the Great Wall of China. Edward’s path from devastation to hope seems appropriately winding, and the novel ultimately leaves you inspired to make the most of life despite its challenges.